Sega Superstars Tennis – Xbox 360

Sega Superstars Tennis Box ArtReview by Johnus Maximus

Released mid-March 2008, Sega Superstars Tennis, developed by Sumo Digital and published by Sega, tries to put a new spin on the traditional tennis game by playing it with classic Sega characters.

Available on Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, PS2 and DS, Sega Superstars Tennis is a vibrant and interesting attempt at a crossover which although looks fantastic, doesn’t really deliver a satisfying experience and fails massively to capitalise on the range of popular franchises in Sega’s history.

I’ve been a big Sega fan way back in the days when I got my first console – a Sega Master System II – and over the years they’ve had a knack of making some really fun games with memorable characters. This game includes a few of those characters, but far fewer than I would have liked.

The game itself has two distinctly varying game play styles – regular tennis, both singles and doubles (matches and tournaments) and minigame tennis. There are five available modes to select and you can play by yourself or with up to 3 additional players depending on the game type you choose.

When playing the game you will be able to select initially from eight starting characters – Sonic, Dr Eggman, Tails, Beat, NiGHTS, Ulala, Aiai and Amigo, – and during the course of the game you have the opportunity to unlock eight more – Amy Rose, Shadow, Gum, Reala, Pudding, Meemee, Alex Kidd and Gilius Thunderhead. Each character has their own speciality such as speed, control or power, also each has a special move they can unleash which can really help them dominate the court.

Samba de Amigo
Samba activates his psychedelic Superstar State

The most interesting and original of the five available playing modes is the Superstars Mode. Here you have a selection of levels based on classic Sega games, each of which has a set number of objectives you must complete before unlocking new levels, usually a mix of both normal tennis and minigames themed on the level you’re playing.

There are 15 different games represented, Sonic the Hedgehog, Jet Set Radio Future, Chu Chu Rocket, Space Channel 5, After Burner, NiGHTS, Samba de Amigo, Virtua Squad, Outrun, House of the Dead, Space Harrier, Puyo Pop Fever, Super Monkey Ball, Golden Axe and Alex Kidd.

Some of these levels were excellent and looked really great – the Sonic, NiGHTS and Samba levels are so colourful and probably my favourites – some of the mini games on offer are quite diverse and interesting – from knocking down zombies with tennis balls in House of the Dead to positioning directional markers to rescue the mice in Chu Chu Rocket. Unfortunately, some of the levels are a complete cop-out – the Golden Axe level takes place of the House of the Dead court, and the Alex Kidd stage takes place on the Outrun court!

In my opinion only having 16 playable characters from 8 different games is lacklustre. Why not include more characters from more games, or even just a more in depth complement of characters for the games represented, for example Knuckles and Metal Sonic from the Sonic franchise, or Ax Battler and Tyris Flare from Golden Axe series.

Including more games and characters would not just have appealed to fans though, it could have been an ideal marketing boost to downloadable re-releases on Xbox Live or the Wii Virtual Console. Not having the roster include characters from games such as Streets of Rage, Toe Jam & Earl, Shinobi, Billy Hatcher, Virtua Fighter, Shenmue, Panzer Dragoon and Wonderboy was a wasted opportunity.

House of the Dead tennis
The zombies are here, but no sign of Thomas Rogan or G

That wasn’t my only disappointment, getting to grips with the controls was frustrating. I’m used to playing tennis games where you press the button to swing when the ball is near you, too early or too late would mean you miss your shot. In this game though, timing is not important, you just have to press the ball way before you normally would. You can actually press it, move around the court for a few seconds and providing you are positioned correctly you will still hit it!

Another annoying feature is that rather than utilising all of the four main buttons on the pad, this game only uses A and X, so for certain shot types – like the lob – you have to use combination button presses. Why this game has such bizarre controls I don’t know, seems like a pointless reinvention to controls that have already proved to work for other tennis games.

As I mentioned previously, there are other modes to play in other than Superstars Mode. There’s Match Mode, which allows you to play singles or doubles games on any of the courts you have unlocked and adjust the number of games and sets to your liking. Tournament Mode is also available in to play in singles or doubles mode, and you will face a five stage (for singles) and three stage (for doubles) tournament ladder of various opponents. Games Mode allows you to play any of the unlocked mini games by yourself or against up to three of your buddies.

Lastly, if you’re bored of playing by yourself and none of your friends will play with you, you can take the game onto Xbox Live where you can choose from ranked or unranked matches, check out highlights from other players games and also see how you stand on the global leader board. Be warned though, the dodgy controls are only made worse if you ever hit a spot of lag online.

So to round up this review, I want to reiterate that this game, despite looking fantastic, is marred by an awkward control method and is only halfway successful in its efforts to inspire nostalgia for the bygone days of gaming.

Sega Superstars Tennis gets two yellow (but non-spherical) stars out of five.

Two Stars